27. December 2008 · Comments Off on Life and Times of a Bowerbird · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, History, Literary Good Stuff, Memoir, Working In A Salt Mine...

A bowerbird, or so I read years ago in National Geographic, or Smithsonian, or one of those other popular magazines with a bent towards science and nature, was a native bird species peculiar to Australia and the farther reaches of New Guinea, which had the curious habit of decorating its nest with all sorts of colorful bits of this and that – glass, shells, colored leaves, pieces of glass and plastic, berries – anything and everything which caught it’s eye and which it liked enough to pick up and take home, arranging it with all those other finds in pleasing patterns. This apparently makes sense to the bird doing the arranging, because they seem to be quite set on those patterns. They will, according to researchers, also restore bits that are deliberately disarranged back to the pattern which they chose. It also seems, according to the internet (which I turned to in confirming this tiny and almost useless bit of knowledge – hey, it’s on the internet, so it must be true!) it is the male birds who do this, so this is where this simile falls apart. I am, and have always been of the female persuasion and pretty happy overall with that designation, although in a truly just universe, I would have preferred looking a hell of a lot more like Audrey Hepburn, as well as having her mad dancing skilz.

But I do have somewhat of a similarity to the bowerbird (of whatever sex) because I collect stuff, random stuff that is attractive and catches my eye, and which I can arrange in attractive patterns. I do this when I write, or more specifically when I am reading and researching for what I am preparing to write. I never know what particular bit will engage my interest – and some items are very odd bits indeed. I keep coming back to them, and by this I know that they must be an element in the story. For “Adelsverein” I kept returning to the Goliad Massacre of 1836, to the kidnapping of children from the Hill Country by raiding Indians, to a throw-away comment in an old memoir – a then-senior citizen recalling that his youngest sister actually wasn’t of his blood, she was an tiny orphan found and rescued from the Verein camp on the Texas Gulf Coast, never able to recall her real name. I also kept circling back to the recorded memory of an elderly woman, recalling proudly that she was 90-something and didn’t need glasses to thread a needle – and also recalling that the husband she loved, and had been married to for only 13 years, being taken away by the Hanging Band during the Civil War and hung, for the crime of being a Unionist in a Confederate state – all this, in spite of her attempting to sneak his revolver to him. Reading about these tiny events was like getting a small electrical shock, or perhaps recognizing something that I had known in another lifetime. These combined with any number of other bits and pieces of frontier lore, with small and humble items seen in museums, with paintings and sketches of scenery, daguerreotypes and memoirs, even a 1850’s travelogue by a famously observant political writer who did a horseback journey through antebellum Texas and the south. Thrown into this mix are my own visits to various places in the Hill Country, my own first-hand observations of clear green rivers, their beds paved with round marble-white gravel, sessions with subject matter experts in frontier arcane, the memory of certain people and conversations — and then arrange it all in a somewhat-logical pattern. Just like a bowerbird, although my own bower is a famously complex excel spreadsheet of a dozen and more categories, organized by month and year. All those pretty, shiny bits are plugged into the place where they seem to me to belong.

In a year or two, there is a book come out of it, all; a ripping good adventure yarn with the added benefit of having the very best bits of it based on historical fact; not bad for a bowerbird.

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